Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Troubled Growth of Beit Jann

Continued from...

Part 1: Beit Jann

Israel's installation of running water has freed the Israeli Arab Druze village Beit Jann from the only natural constraint to its population growth.

Since the damage from hurricane Katrina reduced the supply of oil from Gulf Coast oil refineries, fuel costs have skyrocketed. Villagers have therefore switched to wood-burning stoves. Of course, the nearest source of wood happens to be the nature reserve, so the constant deforestation has become a major problem. Park rangers chase down Druze youths on tractors hauling away whole oak trees. But with a value of 30,000 Shekels ($7,500) per tree, the understaffed parks service can't keep up with the continued cutting.

One of our hikers hitching a ride with a Druze farmer.

The second conflict is with overall land useage. Beit Jann continues to expand, and, like most Arab villages, respect for the rule of law is, well, iffy. Buildings are erected without permits or zoning, resulting in haphazard streets and alleyways. But the greater problem is agriculture. Many Druze obtain their primary income from the olive harvest. With the growth of the village, the amount of cultivated land also grows, naturally at the expense of the nature reserve.

Beit Jann agriculture gradually consumes the nature reserve.

The reserve is cut through with scores of illegally built roads used to access the illegally cultivated fields. At first the police were sent to destroy such roads and restore law and order, but the Druze quickly learned a new tactic. Each time they went to establish a new road, at the end of the road, they would build a memorial to a Druze soldier who had fallen in service of the Israel Defence Forces. When the police came to demolish the road, the Druze would call the media in, and protest the destruction of memorials to fallen soldiers, bewailing the betrayal of Israel's "covenant of blood" with the Druze. This then embarrasses the government into inaction, and the development continues.

Anyone familiar with Israeli culture can recognize these tactics of "do first, ask questions later." It is, in fact, remarkable how much of Israeli culture the Druze have absorbed.

Olive groves
Druze farmers working sheep pens and olive groves constructed illegally in the nature reserve.

Yours truly (Omer beard still intact at that time) in front of some Druze agriculture.

Father and son working their field.
A Mekorot (israel water company) pumping station, illegal agriculture, and some sort of top-secret I-could-tell-you-what-it-is-but-then-I'd-have-to-kill-you army antenna thing and microwave relay tower.

Still, despite the conflict between the Druze and the state, the destruction of the nature reserve is a small problem relative to the value the Druze community provides. It's not as if Jewish real estate developers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv don't behave just as crookedly when it serves their needs, as is repeatedly revealed in Israel's cyclical corruption scandals. As for the Druze, they have no pretensions to the sort of large-scale development corruption one finds amongst Israel's real estate manganates, they're just trying to make a living. Overall, the alliance the Druze have forged with Israel, accepting the Jewish state, serving in the military, and participating in mainstream Israeli political parties left, right, and center, is unique amongst Israel's Arabs. Israel's Muslim Arab citizens are violently hostile to Israel's existence, and Christian Arabs are terrified of the Muslim Arabs, and so tend to side with them. Imagine if the rest of Israeli Arabs, or in the rest of the middle east, could accept the concept of non-Muslims living unoppressed and exist in partnership. But, alas, that idea seems centuries away.

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